Exploring the mountains that never rest

By Nicole Cox, Communications Fellow

In recognition of International Mountain Day on Dec. 11, today’s article is about honoring the mountains around Salt Lake. 

Look west of campus, all the way to the other side of the valley; look beyond the city lights, and beneath the horizon. What do you see? Those are the mountains that never rest: the Oquirrhs.

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Alisha Anderson, a recent graduate from the Environmental Humanities masters program spent last year getting to know the Oquirrhs by learning the history and understanding the story. It was through this journey of learning that Anderson began using the Oquirrhs as inspiration for her art.

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Mountains that never rest: A story of the Oquirrh Mountains is a poetic visual narrative of a seemingly invisible landscape and the process one has to undertake to uncover it. The project is a collection of ten videos accompanied by the sound of Alisha’s voice, weaving together the untraveled backstory. The videos reflect her encounters with the wildlife, curious bystanders, changing seasons, and nature that was affected by the historic mine. The dialogue explores what it means to voluntarily attach oneself to place, and whether that attachment will compel us towards action.

Her work is most easily identified as land art; a style often characterized by Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, which is located on the northeastern edge of the Great Salt Lake. However, Anderson differentiates herself from such ecologically disruptive land art, by focusing on collaboration and ethics. The work of Richard Long is an example of this approach because of the “light touch when he creates,” she says. Anderson continues to explain.

Art is the means through which I process experience.

It is more than a product, for I believe that as I modify materials, they modify me.

For me, art is about listening. It is about quieting oneself and listening to a place, people or a feeling. Once one has listened, then it is possible to visually represent and augment experience.

I believe that instead of always imposing one’s will on a landscape there must be collaboration. Creating land art requires me to listen to specific location—to see its patterns and materials. It requires time and patience and I find that so often the land has begun the art piece already; I only finish it. 

Anderson’s art seems so intimately local to the Salt Lake Valley, but it’s not only local. The themes that she confronts resonate all over the world. In fact this past summer Anderson was invited to present this story at the Halki Summit II in Heybeliada, Turkey.

The Halki Summit is a gathering for scholars, activists, theologians, and artists to come together and discuss ideas that address ecological resiliency, the challenges of global boundaries, and the need for a fundamental shift of humanistic values in the land. Anderson presented alongside keynote speaker Terry Tempest Williams, the current Annie Clark Tanner Scholar in Environmental Humanities, and  George Handley, the Department of Humanities Chair at Brigham Young University.

When I asked Anderson how she thought her artwork was received at the Summit, she said “Many people were emotional after the fact, and in the following days told me stories of their own ‘Oquirrhs’–beloved places negatively affected by industry or neglect. Their responses helped me to see that the story of the Oquirrh Mountains is not unique. The ‘Oquirrhs’ exist for people and places around the globe, giving evidence to larger global issues.”

While this endeavor served as her thesis project, she says it became more of a template for the life and artwork ahead of her.

Alisha was awarded the Floyd O’Neil Fellowship in Western American Studies to carry out her work on the Oquirrhs and more recently the Taft-Nicholson Center Artist Residency in Centennial Valley, Montana. She is currently working on a new project about the Great Salt Lake and can be found digging earth, and refilling it, on the fringe of the lake.

Nicole Cox is a graduate student in Environmental Humanities and a graduate assistant at the Sustainability Office. 

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